The festival of Maci Magam on Vaitthikkuppam beach in 2006.

By Dr. Dominic Goodall, Head, Pondicherry Centre of the EFEO

We hardly thought so at the time, but we were fortunate to have programmed seven consecutive weeks of intensive workshops beginning on 20th January and ending on 6th March 2020 (see EVENTS). Since then, only one topic has dominated the world’s news, and activities of research in our Centre have naturally also been affected. Nonetheless, we have attempted to maintain impetus in our various projects through online reading groups that fill the days, resulting curiously in busier-than-usual months. Considerable progress has thus been possible in the edition (or re-edition) of several Cambodian Sanskrit inscriptions, notably that of Pre Rup (K. 806), a massive tenth-century composition in 298 elaborate stanzas glorifying the emperor Rājendravarman, and the unpublished four-sided stela of Phnom Dei (K. 1222), which extols the twelfth-century Tribhuvanādityavarman, drawing on considerable Sanskritic erudition in order to do so. Unique in the Khmer corpus, that inscription recounts a grand annual festival procession in the bright fortnight of the still cool month of Phālguna between two temples more than 20km apart, one on the bank of the Eastern Baray, a vast ninth-century tank in the Angkor archeological park. This practice recalls South Indian temple life: one thinks for instance of the annual excursion in pomp of Varadarāja Perumāḷ from Kancheepuram to visit Pazhaiya Ceevaram, but also of the more widely celebrated festival of Masi Magam. There, processions bearing the festival images of hundreds of deities from all the surrounding countryside converge at various water-bodies around Pondicherry, notably at Vaithikkuppam beach, in order to bathe at the culminating moment of exactly the same bright fortnight, the full moon of Masi.

Other readings focussed on Tamil literary epigraphy (also part of the ERC DHARMA n ° 809994: dharma.hypotheses.org/a-propos) and on the seventh-century Śivadharmottara and its sixteenth-century Tamil translation (ERC Śivadharma 803624: shivadharmaproject.com): see FOCUS & EVENTS respectively.

The disadvantages (and anxieties) of this period have been manifold and obvious, but one signal advantage proved to be regular reading with scholars elsewhere (in our case, particularly Budapest, Hamburg, Naples, Oxford, Paris, Rome, Siem Reap, Vienna). Of course online readings were also possible before and we were used to them. But with nearly everyone homebound, scheduling across timezones became more elastic, and several new and fruitful configurations emerged.

Contact: dominic [dot] goodall [at] efeo [dot] net